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Yen and Nick Azzaro Propose Interactive, Experimental Art Museum with Youth in Ypsilanti

Recipients of the 2018 Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation “In Our Neighborhood” grant, the husband and wife team Nick Azzaro (BFA '04) and Yen Azzaro (BFA '03) are creating meaningful connections through arts and culture for the residents of eastern Washtenaw County. With their grant now extended through 2020, the couple is raising additional funds to transform the former administrative wing of Willow Run High School into a micro-museum of experimental art called ADMIN. The museum would launch June 13, the first weekend of summer break for Ypsilanti students, and run through Labor Day weekend, 2020.

ADMIN is an evolution of the social art movement Y-Fi, short for “Ypsi Fidelity,” an artist collective at Ypsilanti Community High School, where the Azzaros work with students weekly to prepare performance art pieces and develop professional skills in photography and marketing.

Since the groups formation in early 2019, Y-Fi students have conducted performance art interventions in a variety of public spaces in Washtenaw County, including UMMA, Ypsilanti District Library, and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

“In 2013 Nick and I were hired to revamp Ypsilanti Community Schools’ public image,” said Yen Azzaro. “We got to really know and care about the students, families, and staff. Like many communities, there’s a lack of creative outlets and opportunities for our students. Based on my previous knowledge as an art dealer and working with museums, I wrote a business plan for an experiential museum with focus on local artists and students creating high-caliber and affordable exhibits. With the timing of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation grant and our acceptance into ioby.org’s Artists Lead program, resource opportunities aligned and I truly believe this is the year we make this vision happen.”

Envisioned, built, and run by the Y-Fi team, ADMIN envisions a micro-museum filled with multi-sensory, interactive art experiences that are free and open to the public. Transforming classrooms into gallery spaces, students will work with the guidance of professional museum preparators, artists, and builders to create a space for exploration, community connection, and joy. The mission for ADMIN is to give Ypsilanti youth the opportunity to “get out of the house” and express themselves by creating hands-on experiences, uniting the community, and offering an opportunity for every individual to contribute in whatever way they can. The museum’s proposal offers a visually rich description of the community co-creation planned for the space:

“Imagine turning the doorknob to a classroom door and stepping in. Inside you find yourself in a black-lit cave full of neon stalactites hanging from the ceiling and stalagmites jutting up from the ground. The neon quality of the light highlights any white or bright clothing you're wearing and you touch a gem-like form made of corrugated cardboard, painted fluorescent green. Visitors have the opportunity to take in this spectacle and others like it or be a part of building more attachments to the cave. A separate workshop area with supplies and instructions are available to each visitor. As new pieces are added to the cave, the path within the gallery gets smaller and more twisted, an ever-changing exhibit and documentation of the community's activity.”

“When we told our students we had acquired an old Willow Run space for a museum project they were speechless at first,” Yen Azzaro said. “Seconds later hands shot up in the air and the questions and suggestions came flying. Our students have incredible vision but they aren’t always offered the resources. Now they’re being given the opportunity to be the designers, fabricators, and founding members of a museum.”

The Azzaros currently have a $1-$1 match for all funds raised toward ADMIN through the Artists Lead program. Fundraising will be active through March 14. 2020. Learn more.